Forrester's Andrew McInnes: Customers' Problems Are Companies' Loyalty-Building Opportunities

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Most customer experience efforts focus on doing bad things less and doing good things more. That's a reasonable approach. But, realistically, customers will run into problems no matter how hard companies try to eliminate them.

Most customer experience efforts focus on doing bad things less and doing good things more. That's a reasonable approach. But, realistically, customers will run into problems no matter how hard companies try to eliminate them. Albert Einstein described this well when he said, "Every day, man is making bigger and better fool-proof things, and every day, nature is making bigger and better fools." Even without foolish customers or incompetent companies, customer problems will persist because customers are constantly changing - their preferences, their technology uses, their life stages.Companies should embrace this reality because: 1) problem resolution experiences that exceed customer expectations build loyalty; and, 2) problem resolution experiences that fall below customer expectations erode loyalty.

In a recent Forrester survey, we asked North American consumers about their experiences getting problems resolved. You can find my full analysis in a new report, but here are a few highlights:

  • Repeat business. 81% of respondents who said a company's problem resolution experience far exceeded their expectations also said they're very likely to do business with that company again. Only 5% of those who said problem resolution experiences fell far below expectations said they're very likely to do business with the same company again.
  • Word of mouth. 65% of respondents who said problem resolution experiences far exceeded their expectations also said they're very likely to tell someone about the experience. Even more - 71% - of those who said their experiences fell far below expectations said they're very likely to tell someone.

The link between problem resolution and customer loyalty makes intuitive sense. Customer problems often have serious implications, such as missing flights or incurring late fees. Sometimes they just waste customers' time and energy. Either way, they create tension and anxiety, and resolution experiences can either extinguish or enflame those feelings.

What's really fascinating about this data is the degree to which consumers' responses shift at the extreme ends of problem resolution quality. Consumers who rated problem resolution experiences as 4-out-of-5 (with 5 being the best) reported very different intended behaviors than those who rated experiences as 5-out-of-5. Consumers in the 5-out-of-5 group were much more likely to say they would do business with the company again or tell someone about the experience.

A recent HBR article titled, "Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers," found that companies are generally better off meeting customers' expectations and being easy to work with, rather than aiming for delight. Our data suggests that problem resolution is one moment of truth where it actually pays to go above and beyond - to get into 5-out-of-5 territory. The great news is that most companies currently underwhelm their customers when resolving problems, so above and beyond is still within reach.

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About the Author: Andrew McInnes is an analyst at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/andrew_mcinnes

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